Getting engaged


Engagement is a hot topic these days, and for good reason – it is linked to numerous bottom-line business outcomes.  It is also good for employees.  People WANT to feel engaged.  As we have talked about in previous posts, we all desire to have meaningful, challenging work that captures our hearts and minds.  There are many things that organizations can do to foster an engaged workforce, and we will spend time discussing them in future posts.  But as I was reflecting on the topic, I thought we might flip the discussion around for a bit and focus on the employee.  What can an individual do to “get engaged”?

Say I’m feeling rather “blah” in my job lately.  Things aren’t bad, just not great.  Some mornings I may I drag my feet about getting there, and I go through the motions while watching the clock. I’m not unhappy in my job, just vaguely unexcited and not sure what to do about it.  What does it really mean to be engaged in one’s work?  How can I go from clocked-in to checked-in?  If I wanted to reignite my passion for my work, I would consider these five areas:

  • Make sure the shoe fits.  Engagement begins with the recruiting and hiring process. If there isn’t a good fit between your role and your skills, experiences, and values, things might start to feel like a shoe that’s the wrong size. Consider seeking out new roles, whether that means a position change or trying on a new “side-hat” through a special project.
  • Focus your attention.  Working hard without an end goal in sight can make you feel like a hamster on a wheel –  but working hard feels good when you know you are putting your energy where it matters. Take the initiative to find out what the high-level goals of the organization are. Reflect on your personal and professional goals, and think about how to frame your work so that it mutually satisfies both your ends and the organization’s.
  • Seek a challenge.  Working hard also feels good when it stretches us just past our comfort zone, requiring us to build new skills.  Don’t let things get stale.  The solution could be as simple as setting more challenging task goals, or tackling something different, like going after a promotion or joining a interdepartmental task force.  Achieving challenging goals also helps the organization and can help you further your career goals.
  • Involve the whole you.  You don’t just bring your mind and body to work, your heart comes along for the ride, too.  Let yourself get wrapped up in the emotions of both losses and victories for your team and the organization. Care about how your actions affect your colleagues and customers.
  • Reach out. People connect first and foremost with other people. Get out of the cubicle and build relationships with people across the organization and without.  It is easy to narrow your network to the people you work with every day, but it is by building a more diverse and broad network that you can better appreciate your role in a larger enterprise and see how meaningful your work is to others.

All of this seems well and good, you say, but I just can’t add one more thing to my plate.  I may want to feel more motivated and engaged in the long-term, but in the immediate “now” I am feeling overwhelmed and enervated by my to-do list.  Generating an engaged attitude may seem to take a little bit extra – but it also means getting back more than an x-hours-of-work-for-x-dollars-of-pay transaction affords.  In order to reap those intangible benefits, you may need to first create a wider margin in your energy and emotions:

  • Recharge your batteries.  We’ve talked before about the benefits of meditation and walking.  There is ample evidence to support the idea that taking time to replenish and unwind yields numerous positive outcomes. This downtime can increase productivity and creativity, enhance attention and motivation, and have protective effects on mood and outlook.
  • Be socially savvy.  The people we interact with on a daily basis have an incredible impact on our thoughts and feelings.  Make sure you are “catching” the right emotions by choosing to spend time around other positive, engaged folk versus the Crabby Appletons of the office.  Recent research and business trends also suggest that shaking up who you interact with on a daily basis can foster creativity and enhance learning.

Can and should organizations do their best to help employees do all of the above to foster engagement?  Absolutely.  Organizations that care about creating an engaged workforce take a long-term view of the contributions of their people. I also believe, however, that individuals have great power and responsibility to direct both their own experiences and their impact on the organization.  Taking initiative to engage your fullest self with your work will not only improve your experience, but has a cumulative effect as you serve as a model for others.